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The Body of the Line

Eisenstein's Drawings

Eisenstein, Childhood Memory, 1942
Eisenstein, Henrich Staden talking with the ghost, 1942 Eisenstein, Motif for Staden, 1942 Eisenstein, Pan, 1948
From April 10 to May 16, 1999, The Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science and Technology proudly presented The Body of the Line: Eisenstein's Drawings, the North American premiere of an exhibition of 100 drawings by Russian filmmaker Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein. This exhibition has also been presented at The Drawing Centre in New York from January 22th to March 18th, 2000.

The CD-ROM catalogue accompanying the exhibition features all of the drawings presented in Montréal along with critical texts by Jean Gagnon, curator of the exhibition and the Foundation's Director of Programs. A genuine reference work, the bilingual (English and French) catalogue includes a comprehensive bibliography of writings about and by Eisenstein himself.

Providing a unique look at one hundred drawings centred on the representation of the body, the high-quality CD-ROM allows us to explore Eisenstein's untrammelled imagination. While Eisenstein's impact on film history was felt as early as 1925 with The Battleship Potemkin, his graphic production has remained largely unknown despite its imaginative power. Men, women and animals mingle in a symbolic world of humour and salaciousness. A prolific caricaturist, Eisenstein drew inspiration from the great Shakespearean and biblical themes while brilliantly mocking them. Like a court jester, he pokes fun at Elizabeth I titillating a well-endowed Lord Leicester (in the Diplomacy Lesson series). In his troubling Bulls on a Cross, Eisenstein is again the iconoclast plunging headfirst into the bullfight of life and death.

Fluid and pure, his line is remarkable and vibrant with life. As he noted in his memoirs, "drawings and dance are the fruits of the same loins; they are two different embodiments of the same impulse." His drawings, which might be likened to automatic writing, were an essential outlet for his energy: close to 5,000 extant works bear witness to his passion for this activity. A reflection of his overriding concerns, Eisenstein's figures are forever seeking harmony between the sensual and intellectual natures of human beings as they evoke the magical power of images.

Selected mainly from the collection of the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art (RGALI), these drawings dating from 1914 to 1948 range from Eisenstein's juvenile notebooks to his exuberant Mexican period and the work of his later years. This selection also presents sketches for costumes and sets from a private collection in Moscow, owned by the family of Lydia Naumova, a member of the production team of Ivan the Terrible.

"The CD-Rom (catalogue of the exhibition The Body of the Line: Eisenstein's Drawings) is scholarly yet not overwhelming or fragmented, and it makes proper use of the medium rather than simply transplanting an illustrated written text. I can see that an instructor might want to use it in class to illustrate a lecture or allow students to study it for their own research. In terms of the disc, it is easy to navigate and contains most, if not all, the 100+ drawings in the exhibition. Each drawing is shown in thumbprint size with a full description and there are full screen and various zoom-ins possible for every image, making it possible to actually see the texture of the paper." (1)

Jean Gagnon © 1999 FDL

(1) Oksana Dykyj Bulgakova, Concordia University, Montreal, 12 July 1999.